A Russian man guides Russian tourists at Ponagar, a Cham tower complex in the central resort town of Nha Trang / PHOTO: NGUYEN CHUNG
The Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) has recently warned that it will revoke the license of any travel companies found hiring foreigners as tour guides.
In its letter to local tourism authorities, the agency said it has discovered many groups of foreign tourists being guided by foreign and unlicensed tour guides at famous destinations.
“It is a violation of the state regulations on tourism, directly affecting the quality and image of Vietnamese tourism,” the letter read.
It is not the first time VNAT is trying to address a problem related to tour guides in Vietnam. The local tourism industry suffers from a lack of tour guides per se, let on competent ones.
However, Vietnam’s tourism authorities seem to have overlooked the fact that the root for all these troubles lies in their management and certification of local tour guides.
According to VNAT, as of February, 13,700 tour guides have been licensed in Vietnam, including 7,700 people certified for guiding foreign tourists.
As Vietnam recorded nearly 7.4 million foreign tourists and some 35 million local tourists last year, many tourists, both foreign and Vietnamese, must have visited destinations without tour guides, or used unlicensed ones.
Given that tens of thousands of students graduate from tourism-training departments at local schools every year, one has to wonder why many of the graduates fail to get a license. Is it because the requirements are too high? Or because the licensing procedures are cumbersome?
Under the current laws, to be certified for guiding inbound tours for Vietnamese tourists, one needs to graduate from a vocational school with tourism as the major subject, and finish a three-month course for tour guides. To provide the service for foreign tourists, one has to be a university graduate, meaning that he or she must have studied tourism for four years, have a certification of foreign language skills, and finish a one-month course for tour guides.
These regulations, which are apparently much easier on “domestic” tour guides, show authorities’ discrimination against, if not disrespect for, local tourists.
In fact, VNAT has been in charge of licensing international tour guides for many years, but it was only in 2006 that the agency started licensing domestic ones, following the issuance of the Tourism Law.
Moreover, when issuing the licensing rules, authorities failed to take into consideration that most local institutions offering training in tourism-related activities are vocational schools and colleges whose training programs last two-three years.
This means that graduates from these schools are not eligible to apply for a license to guide foreign tourists, even when they satisfy other requirements.
Actually, prior to the issuance of the Tourism Law, VNAT solved the problem by granting “temporary licenses” to university graduates who had worked for at least five years but did not have professional certificates. This helped add a considerable number of “international” tour guides at the time.
But, in July 2008 the agency voided all the “temporary licenses,” making more than 30 percent of “international” tour guides lose their jobs or risk working illegally, even though they had been doing a good job, especially Chinese-speaking ones in Ho Chi Minh City.
On the other hand, it is alarming that many licensed “international” tour guides are unable to do their jobs due to their poor language and professional skills. They have ended up hiring out their licenses (the existing law requires travel companies operating inbound tours for foreigners to have at least three licensed “international” tour guides).
The fact that VNAT asks applicants to finish its professional courses as one of the licensing requirements is another big problem with the country’s system of training tour guides.
In fact, many undergraduate schools in Vietnam offer training for tour guides, but each applies different programs during which students study a variety of subjects, ranging from Vietnamese studies to tourism administration.
In my opinion, what matters is not who are eligible to get licenses, but how to oversee the activities of tour guides after they are licensed.
It is also important to revise academic and professional requirements for tour guides.
As a person who has worked in the industry for many years, I think graduates from vocational schools and colleges can gain enough knowledge to become a tour guide, provided that the schools’ training programs are standardized.
Since it will take time for the regulations to be revised, VNAT should grant temporary licenses to experienced tour guides to partly deal with the shortage in Vietnam.
Authorities need to take drastic steps to stop the pathetic situation in which tens of thousands of tourism-major students graduate every year, but only a few of them are able to work as tour guides.
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